You may not know it, but human trafficking is a problem in Tennessee. It’s such a problem that Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, chairman of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, has dedicated his career in office to fight against the crime in his home state.
Coley, an educator, was first elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in 2007. Now in his fourth term, he represents the 97th district, which encompasses Shelby County. While his first run for office was for state representative, his interests in politics came at a young age.
Coley’s first real involvement with politics happened in 1968, when he canvassed for Richard Nixon’s presidential election.
He will tell you, however, that he started to gain interest in current events in the third grade when he found out that the smartest kid in the room read the newspaper. So he started to read the newspaper too. He continued to read the news, subscribing to multiple publications, while he was the mail carrier for his neighborhood.
Coley is an American government teacher at Bolton High School in Arlington. He received his bachelor’s degree and his Master of Arts in teaching from the University of Memphis. He has been a teacher for 23 years. His experience in education garnered him a seat on the House Education Committee.
Coley is known nationally for his legislation to help end sex trafficking.
In 2011, Coley sponsored two bills to enhance the punishments against the crime, defined by the Polaris Project (within the U.S.) “as commercial sex acts induced by force, fraud, or coercion or commercial sex acts in which the individual induced to perform commercial sex has not attained 18 years of age.”
In the first bill, the courts would confiscate property from sex traffickers and use the profits to train law enforcement to stop the crime.
The second bill established a hotline number, administered by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, for victims of trafficking. Both bills became law and were hailed by both Democrats and Republicans, something that doesn’t happen that often.
Asked why he started to get interested in this topic, Coley talks about his son, Evan.
“My involvement in the human-trafficking legislation in many ways is a consequence of my son’s friendship with Ryan Dalton” in high school, Coley said.
His son went on to the be the head of the University of Chattanooga’s Polaris Project, an organization that is combating human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
“After looking at the TBI survey that showed incidents of human trafficking in Tennessee, I realized this was a pervasive and severe issue across the entire state and was worth some serious attention.”
–Rep. Jim Coley
Ryan Dalton, while in law school at University of Memphis, help draft legislation on human trafficking. Dalton went on to start his own organization to combat sex trafficking. Recently, Coley passed a resolution honoring Dalton for his work.
After learning more about this area of need from his son and Dalton, Coley looked for more information on how it affected Tennessee.
“After looking at the TBI survey that showed incidents of human trafficking in Tennessee, I realized this was a pervasive and severe issue across the entire state and was worth some serious attention,” Coley said.
The representative continues with legislation around sex trafficking and is now making a name for himself around the state Capitol for his dedication to this issue.
“I commend Rep. Coley on his work with human-trafficking issues. It’s something about which he is very passionate, and I admire his tenacity in continuing to work on it,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell. “Over the years, I have carried legislation regarding sexual predators, and this is an extension of that – an issue that always deserves our attention.”
Coley continues to fight for those who are in the greatest need. Just this year, he has filed more bills to help strengthen laws and provide more training across the state to combat this problem.
“Human trafficking doesn’t just affect urban areas, but rural ones as well. It happens all over the state,” Coley said.
And he is doing all he can to stop this problem in Tennessee.